Pickled onions, an eye-watering success

PRODUCERS of one of Tasmania’s most iconic pickled goods, pickled onions, tell a story of passion, family recipes and a commitment to style.

The story of the Broadby family’s involvement with pickled onions started in the paddock. Mike and Gay had been supplying onions for Blue Banner Pickled Onions from their property at Ulverstone for some years when they were approached by the out-going owner of the company in 1999.

He recognised their passion and offered them the chance to take over the business, an opportunity they jumped at. Over the years they imprinted their unique style on the Blue Banner brand, producing about 800,000 jars a year. From the home-made vinegar recipe, hand sorting, cutting and bottling of the onions making for an unmistakably artisan feel and flavour, garnering a strong following in the pickled onion market.

Fast-forward some years and Mike and Gay had decided their next move was well-deserved retirement, selling the company to Rosella in 2007, when production was transferred to the mainland. The move away from the locally sourced product, secret family recipes and hands-on processing didn’t bring the success it once had and its parent company, went into receivership in 2012. This is where Mike and Gay came back into the picture. Rosella was purchased by Sabrands in 2013 and upon seeing the previous success of the pickled delights, Mike and Gay were approached to once again get the company up and running, just as it had under their ownership.

A new, specialised facility was built in Ulverstone and they’ve not looked back in the decade since. Andrew Wilson is currently manager at Tasmanian Pickled Onions and says the past years have seen the company “get back up to speed and beyond.” “Our latest figures show around a million jars coming out of the factory per year,” Mr Wilson said. “Covid has been really kind to us. It seems a lot of people have gone back to eating at home, as well as the change to a lot of people looking to buy Australian-made products again.”

Brown onions are sourced from farms across the North-West of Tasmania, though the majority of them make the short journey from Perfecta, the farm overlooking the factory that first supplied Blue Banner Onions under the ownership of the Broadby family. “Perfecta onions are perfect for us for a few reasons. Obviously it’s so close, but the property is already set up to supply to us from when it was owned by Mike and Gay,” Mr Wilson said.

The factory processes three distinct sizes of onion, catering for their three production lines, with the smaller and larger-sized bulbs being packed into their own Tasmanian Pickled Onions jars, for bite size or platter-sized meals. In the middle are the Blue Banner onions, which go directly to supermarkets across the nation.

Behind the factory walls there is a team working the tear-inducing job of hand cutting, sorting and bottling the onions, before the family-secret vinegar is added. They process around three tonnes of onions a day, amounting to between 4500 and 5000 jars. “There’s almost always 11 to 12 onions per jar no matter the size, the secret behind that has always been the hand-bottling,” says Darren Broadby.

“The whole process of hand-peeling and hand bottling is why the product sits alone in the market, the texture of the onions, the presentation of the jar, it’s all because we don’t use mechanical methods. “The vinegar recipe goes back over 30 years and hasn’t really changed in that time, that in itself is a testimony of our product. “We’ve got this quality because of our hands on the ground, a simple process that’s stayed the same for years, the consistency is what’s key for us.”